Presented on August 8, 2009 at the Sixth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies in the Tripp Lecture Hall on the Elmira College Campus.
We believe we know how Mark Twain walked and talked because Hal Holbrook gave him a best-guess voice, along with an approximation of his shuffling gait and lecture-platform mannerisms. He put together his remarkable one-man show, Mark Twain Tonight!, when many people knew Twain - including his daughter Clara, secretary Isabel Lyon, "Angelfish" Dorothy Quick, and James "Bim" Pond, son of the lecture manager - were still alive to offer guidance. And Hal Holbrook has been guiding countless neophytes into the fold ever since.
The impact of this stage show on Mark Twain research and readership cannot be greatly exaggerated. There is no way to accurately measure how many people became Mark Twain readers, fans, impersonators, or scholars because of Mark Twain Tonight! But the fact that Holbrook's portrayal had an impact is undeniable.
There is a response by Hal Holbrook immediately following the lecture.
Mark Dawidziak is a television critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, as well as an acclaimed author, playwright, director, and actor who often portrays Twain in performances. A recognized Twain scholar, he has edited several books on the author, including Mark My Words: Mark Twain on
Writing (1996), Horton Foote’s The Shape of the River: The Lost Teleplay About Mark Twain (2003), Mark Twain in Ohio (2015), Mark Twain’s Guide to Diet, Exercise, Beauty, Fashion, Investment, Romance, Health and Happiness (2015), and Mark Twain for Cat Lovers: True and Imaginary Adventures with Feline Friends (2016).